Not Stating the Obvious

A man in a pet store asks, “How much for the Chihuahua?”

The next line is It whines in the shoebox-sized carrier under his arm as he returns to the Volvo.

I think this is beautifully efficient writing by Alma Garcia, one of the members of my writing group. We don’t need to see the man being rung up at the cash register or see him handing over his Visa card. We don’t even need to be told, much less shown, that he paid for it.

I don’t know if there is a name for this in writing jargon. Inference? Corollary? Extrapolation? Whatever it is, it’s elegant and I find it often in Alma’s work.

I’d like to make it a common occurrence in my own writing. With practice and diligence I think I can. But I’d also like it to happen in real life—which really amounts to wishful thinking since you have no control over the actors in the scene. You just have to hope they cooperate.

A few days ago on the second leg of my flight to Virginia from Seattle, my plane from Detroit to Roanoke had begun its slow taxi to the runway for take-off. I was in an aisle seat, which I always favor because it gives the illusion of easy access should a dash for the emergency exit be necessary. In reality, the main benefit is not having to climb over people to get to the lavatory.

Red-eyed and grumpy, but hopeless at sleeping on planes, I opened my book to read. My muzzy focus was disrupted in the first paragraph. My seat was being jarred by the man behind me. I held my place in my book and paused, waiting for the jarring to stop. When it did, I resumed reading. The jarring started again. And again I waited for it to stop. Which it did, briefly. It was clear to me, though, that if there was any chance of it stopping completely, I had to speak up.

Speak up was what teachers used to tell me in class because my voice lies in the middle wimpy range, and I’m not easily heard. Amplified by a microphone, my voice can sound pleasant. Amplified by the limited power of my own larynx, my voice is a screechy affront to any ear. I did not want to make a scene. I gathered my poise (to the extent that such a thing is gatherable) and swiveled slowly around the back of my seat. There were the offending knees flush against the tray table in its upright position. It took a while to get the attention of their owner who was in congenial conversation with his seatmate, a chatty young college woman who was describing in an appealing Southern accent her hard-hitting tennis game.

“Excuse me,” I said. No response. “Excuse me,” I said again. This time the man across the aisle heard me and watched, waiting to see what I would do next. I waited to see what I would do next. I could turn back around and forget the whole thing, resign myself to a back-jarring, one hour and twenty-six-minute flight. Pretend I was in one of those vibrating massage chairs, one that inadvertently induced headaches from prolonged juddering of the spine. Or I could wait it out, wait for him of the jiggling knees to notice me. I leaned forward a little more to swing into his peripheral vision. “Excuse me,” I said a third time. He turned to me, a question on his face. He cupped his hand to his ear. Speak up.

“You’re bumping my chair,” I said.

He repeated the hand-to-ear mime.

“You’re bumping my chair.” I nodded at his knees jiggling a rhythm.

“My knees touch the seat,” he said, shrugging, helpless to do anything about the length of his legs.

“Yes, I know.” I agreed with his irrefutable observation, making it clear that I didn’t fault him for his anatomy.

I waited. His turn to talk. There was the unspoken inference/corollary/extrapolation hanging in the air.

Finally, the man said, “I’ll try not to jiggle my legs”

Ta-da. Perhaps not as efficient or elegant as Alma’s Chihuahua example. Maybe not even the same thing. Still, I did not have to use needless words, did not have to state the obvious, did not have to make an unnecessary scene.